Public Engagement Programs

American Lectures in the History of Religions

Founded in 1891 to encourage path-breaking scholarship through a lecture and book series, the American Lectures in the History of Religions (ALHR) flourished under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and Columbia University from 1936. At the request of the ACLS, the American Academy of Religion assumed administrative responsibility for the series in 1994. Learn more about the lecture series.

Public Scholars Project

The Public Scholars Project is a joint initiative of the American Academy of Religion's Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion and the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum. Through seminars, webinars, and other resources, the Public Scholars Project equips scholars of religion to effectively communicate in the public sphere and foster religious literacy. Learn more about the Public Scholars Project.

Religious Literacy Guidelines for College Graduates

In 2019, the AAR published guidelines outlining what every undergraduate student should know about religion. The guidelines were adopted by the AAR Board of Directors after three years of discussion and edits by a committee and advisory board. Diane L. Moore, Director of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School, and Eugene V. Gallagher, Rosemary Park Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Connecticut College, led the effort, which was funded by a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

The guidelines argue that some critical understanding about the ways in which religion shapes and is shaped by human behavior should be part of the general education of every person who receives an undergraduate degree. Designed to aid both faculty and administrators, the guidelines include suggested outcomes, frequently asked questions, and an outline of common approaches to teaching and learning about religion on college campuses, along with examples.

Teaching about Religion in K–12 Public Schools

The AAR has developed Guidelines for Teaching about Religions in K–12 Public Schools. The document discusses why teaching about religion is important, the distinction between a devotional approach and a non-devotional religious studies approach appropriate for public schools, how to teach about religion with a variety of approaches and pedagogical strategies, and the content and skill competencies required for teachers to teach about religion in intellectually sound ways.

Chaplaincy Program

For a number of years, the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism (CERP) cosponsored G-CARD training conversations for senior officials who oversee chaplaincy in governmental institutions, including statewide and federal prison chaplaincy directors, senior military chaplains, and those who oversee military chaplaincy endorsements.

The rationale for the program included:

  • Chaplains need religious pluralism education
  • The Constitution requires the needs be met of those incarcerated
  • Incarcerated populations are religiously diverse
  • Most chaplains’ religious expertise is limited to Christianity
  • AAR members have subject matter expertise and are happy to participate in practical application

The conversations focused on religions in all their diversity, especially on religions that tend to be less familiar. The conference also provided updates on the law affecting chaplaincy, as well as opportunities for attendees to share best practices across jurisdictions.

The training conversations were originally offered to state and federal correctional institution chaplaincy directors and later added military chaplaincy. These conversations were held in conjunction with the AAR Annual Meetings across the United States.

The session topics varied from year to year, based on the needs of those expressing interest in attending. Always included was a basic primer on understanding the legal issues involved in providing religious accommodation and the chaplain’s role in ensuring such accommodation takes place—including an update on recent court decisions. Most of the rest of the program consisted of sessions with leading religious studies experts on religious groups the attendees have encountered, but whose practices may not be familiar. In the sessions, attendees learned about adherents’ beliefs, ritual objects, worship space, garments, holidays, literature, dietary or grooming restrictions, and more. Most sessions were about an hour and a half in length and included significant time for participants’ questions and discussion. Session time was allotted to best practices discussions among the attendees about various religions on topics such as accommodation of religious attire and artifacts/items, diet, and communal rituals, security threat groups or accommodating chaplains’ religious rights.

Over the years, more than thirty leading religion scholars and chaplaincy directors from twenty-six states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have participated.

Teaching against Islamophobia

Given the cultural and political climate in 2017, the AAR partnered with the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning to provide a three-year workshop on Teaching against Islamophobia. The workshop provided participants the opportunity to:

  • Explore the differences between teaching about Islam and teaching about Islamophobia
  • Deepen their knowledge of how Islamophobia functions as a form of racism and why this matters for how to create effective strategies for addressing Islamophobia in the classroom
  • Develop appropriate pedagogical strategies tailored to their specific teaching contexts (liberal arts college, state university, seminary, divinity school)
  • Consider ways to develop courses on Islamophobia, to frame/reframe courses on Islam by creating awareness of Islamophobia’s impact on the study of Islam, and to enhance existing course modules with greater attention to Islamophobia
  • Cultivate awareness of the pedagogical challenges and opportunities for combating Islamophobia as engaged scholars outside of the classroom.
  • Develop teaching projects that address these issues in their institutional contexts, and informally report back on progress and challenges during the pre-conference sessions at the AAR Annual Meetings in 2018 and 2019

AAR/Luce Fellowships in Religion and International Affairs

This fellowship program, made possible by the generosity of the Henry Luce Foundation, placed AAR members in year-long fellowships, first in the State Department as Franklin Fellows and then at the US Institute for Peace, the National Democratic Institute, and the CDC. The program allowed the various agencies to work more closely, on a regular basis, with scholars who have grappled with the complexity of religion in a wide range of contexts and situations. The Fellows Program was designed to facilitate lines of communication so that scholarship and critical, analytical perspectives are more readily accessible to policymakers attempting to address issues in parts of the world where the role of religion may be unclear, and so that scholars have the opportunity to affect policy and learn how foreign policy is developed.

The AAR respected that not all scholars feel it is their role to apply their expertise outside the academy or more specifically within the federal government. However, the AAR determined it vital to the field and valuable to society that many scholars do.

The AAR Luce Fellowship participants were:

  • Asher Orkaby, National Democratic Institute, Yemen expert
  • Maren Milligan, Centers for Disease Control, faith-based organizations and health assessments
  • Sousan Abadian, US Department of State - Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF), atrocity prevention, female genital mutilation, and Iran
  • Ann Wainscott, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Middle Eastern policy, Iraq
  • Jerome Copulsky, US Department of State - Office of Religion and Global Affairs (S/RGA), Anti-Semitism training and policies
  • Evan Berry, US Department of State - Office of Religion and Global Affairs (S/RGA), climate change and international environmental conservation
  • Todd Green, US Department of State - Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs EUR/PGI, religion and internal affairs, Islamophobia

Levantine Refugee Project

In response to the refugee crisis in 2017, the Religion and International Affairs area of the Henry Luce Foundation sponsored a partnership with the AAR, Boston College, and Harvard Divinity School, which provided AAR members the opportunity to participate in video conferencing conversations with displaced Syrians and Iraqis from abroad who would like to talk with AAR members during the Annual Meeting. The aim was to humanize the refugee crisis in ways that would inspire members to better educate their students and the broader public about its religious dimensions. Due to the sensitivity of the topic of religion and given the potential vulnerability of the conversation partners, the conversations did not focus specifically on religion. Instead, there were open-ended prompts to spur conversations around shared humanity.